South Korean Y.E. Yang birdied six of his last nine holes, and Bubba Watson birdied four of his last six for a share of the lead at 7-under-par 64 after the first round of the Phoenix Open on Thursday in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Phil Mickelson’s back was better, although his score didn’t reflect it, as he launched his title defense with an even-par 71. He was forced to pull out of the event in La Jolla, Calif., last weekend because of a balky back.
Yang, 42, mixed eight birdies with a lone bogey in dazzling desert sunshine. He took advantage of ideal scoring conditions at TPC Scottsdale and signed off with a superb approach to 3 feet at the par-4 final hole before sinking the birdie putt.
Yang, who has not recorded a single top-10 on the U.S. circuit since he tied for sixth at The Barclays in 2011, was delighted with his uptick in form.
“I have been playing like you-know-what for a long time now,” he told PGATour.com through an interpreter. “I have been adjusting my swing for a long time ... and I think it’s finally paying off.”
Yang’s lead held up most of the day until he was joined at the top by 2012 Masters champion Watson.
“This golf course, if your ball-striking is good, you can shoot some good numbers here,” Watson said after hitting 17 greens in regulation.
Americans Pat Perez, Kevin Stadler, William McGirt, Harris English and Chris Kirk, along with Australians Greg Chalmers and Matt Jones, were one shot back after opening with 65s. Ten players were unable to finish the first round and will complete it Friday.
MCILROY ON TOP IN DUBAI
Rory McIlroy took another step toward regaining his form with his lowest score in more than three years — a 9-under 63 — while playing with Tiger Woods to take a two-shot lead in the Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates.
McIlroy played bogey-free in ideal scoring conditions on the Maglis course at Emirates Golf Club, picking up six birdies and an eagle during a 10-hole stretch in the middle of his round. He upstaged Woods, who was five shots back after a 68.
Edoardo Molinari made an eagle on the par-4 second hole on his way to a 65. The group at 66 included Stephen Gallacher, the defending champion.
tracking locals on the pga Tour
This week: Waste Management Phoenix Open, through Sunday, TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Ariz.
In the field: Puyallup’s Ryan Moore, Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley and University Place’s Michael Putnam.
Moore’s first-round score: 5-under-par 66.
Putnam’s first-round score: 4-under 67.
Stanley’s first-round score: 7-over 78.
Position: Moore is tied for 10th, Putnam is tied for 18th and Stanley is tied for 130th — all trailing co-leaders Bubba Watson and Y.E. Yang (64).
Recap: Moore has certainly grown to enjoy playing this course. Last season, the Cascade Christian graduate posted a 22-under 262 total — his tournament low for the year. And he got things rolling Thursday by canning a 50-foot birdie putt at the 12th hole — one of six birdies he had on the day. ... Putnam is flashing a little of the Seahawks love this week, and it paid off at the raucous 16th hole Thursday. He hit his tee shot at the enclosed par 3 left of a back-pin location, then made a 15-footer for birdie. He then made his way to the grandstands and started handing out 12th Man towels. “Lots of Seahawk jerseys in the crowd,” he said in a text message. Putnam then made the turn and birdied four of the first five holes on the front side. ... Is it early-season rust or cause for concern? Only Lucas Glover (79) posted a worse score than Stanley, who won this tournament in 2012. The Bellarmine Prep product made five bogeys, a double bogey and a triple bogey to wash out three birdies.
Tee times Friday: First-round play will resume at 8 a.m. Stanley will go off at 8:15 a.m., Moore at 12:25 p.m., and Putnam at 1:15 from the first tee.